Don’t get so focused on the features you’re building that you can’t see the forest for the trees.

A product is more than its features — it’s the entire experience

As a product manager, it’s difficult to think about aspects of your product outside of features. You probably spend the majority of your time defining what should be built and working closely with engineering to determine how things should be built. You’re a product manager, that’s what you do. But there’s more to building valuable products than delivering features. There’s numerous touch points, outside of your features, that impact the value and usefulness of your product. If you want to become a better product manager, you need to look beyond the features on your roadmap and start understanding the entire experience your product creates.

Typically, the areas that create the interactions that make the product experience what it is aren’t your responsibility. Areas such as your product’s website, customer support, knowledge base communities, product videos and others. Some of these areas are usually handled by the product marketing team. Which makes sense, that’s what product marketing does — create the content that turns the website into a slick selling machine (among other things, of course!). And that’s how it should be, right? Each role has their own distinct responsibility:

Product managers define what should be built, rally a team behind why it should be built and validate things with real users.
Product marketers tell the world stories through messaging development, content creation and launch strategies.

Whether you’re on the management side or marketing side, a successful product requires both — product management and product marketing. There should be collaboration between both sides and an understanding and awareness about what’s happening on each team. The sweet spot of a great product is when everything, all interactions and touchpoints, come together in one harmonious experience.

There‘s plenty of great reading out there about why product management is not the same as product marketing but that’s not what this post is about.

This post is about urging product managers to widen their lens and start considering the entire customer journey as part of their product.

An obvious example of someone who has redefined the meaning of the product experience is Apple. Think about the iPhone. It’s not just the hardware or the latest software build. The iPhone is the iPhone due to an entire series of events:

  • Visiting apple.com
  • Visiting an Apple Store
  • Touching the device
  • Playing with a new OS for the first time
  • Opening the package (and marveling at the design… not of the phone, but of the package itself)
  • Showing your new phone to a friend
  • Getting customer support or visiting the Genius Bar
  • Selling your old iPhone to get a new one

All of these interactions shape the iPhone product. They’re unique and if any of them are changed, it leads to a different product experience outcome. The iPhone and it’s software are the products they are today because of the hundred experiences surrounding them.

Your product is more than features. Your product is the entire experience.

Obviously, this thinking goes into every touch point and interaction related to your product. In other words, it’s a lot. And as a product manager, you can’t own everything. Defining the product to be built (product management) is a challenging job unto itself!

What you can do, however, is collaborate and build trust across the different teams owning these experiences. You don’t have to update the website yourself, but you need to be aware of the impact the site has on your product. You have to come out of the trenches and look around to understand the numerous efforts happening by other teams that will create an experience for your product. This could be a website overhaul, help content, a blog post, demo videos, packaging, transactional emails, app store descriptions and more. It’s not an easy task, but if you’re a product manager reading this, you already know the importance of breadth across a variety of areas.

Let’s fact it, there’s no shortage of activity surrounding your product. You can’t execute it all, but you can start to widen your lens and use these experiences to your advantage to build better products. If you start believing that a product is more than its features and that it’s defined by the entire customer journey, you’ll get closer to your customers and better understand more of their needs.

For example, you may discover that customers have a hard time discovering your knowledge base community where they can read FAQs and get help to common troubleshooting questions. You don’t own the knowledge base community, but there could be an opportunity to create a better, more usable bridge from your app into the community. This opportunity could become your next feature.

Finding the balance of getting involved with these areas can be tricky. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the numerous touch points. Again, the goal, as a product manager, isn’t to own the entire end-to-end experience. That’s not on you. Hopefully you already work with great teams who are leading the charge in their area of expertise. The point is to have awareness and an understanding of the entire product experience and use that knowledge to make smarter, more informed product decisions.

This approach gets back to the heart of product management: having empathy in order to understand users. Understanding your users goes beyond just building the feature they need to do the job they’re hiring your product for — it goes into understanding how and where they interact with the entire product experience.

Interacting with your product could happen across a variety of places:

  • Discovering your product as a possible solution to the job at hand (website)
  • Signing up to use your product (onboarding)
  • Using the product to do the task they need to do (feature)
  • Learning how to use your product (knowledge base)
  • Troubleshooting an issue (customer support)
  • Being reminded about features they’re not using (email marketing)

There’s more many, but all of these areas are connected and that’s the point…

Your product is more than the features in the next release… your product is the entire experience.

Thank you to my go-to editor, Nick Wellner, for nudging this post in the right direction!